Roxborough High makes strides towards a more engaged, less violent school community

Long-time staffers at Roxborough High say the school is finally on the right track.

For years, the Ridge Avenue school struggled through inconsistent and directionless leadership. Academics waned and school violence became a big concern.

“Kids were all over the hallways. They were non-compliant with teachers. They said and did what they felt. They came late or they didn’t come to school at all,” said Denise DiFrancesco, who has taught at Roxborough for 35 years.

Now, things appear to be looking up. This week, the School District of Philadelphia announced that Roxborough is no longer part of the state’s persistently dangerous schools list.

DiFrancesco and others attribute much of the turnaround to a new school climate that started taking root in March 2010, when Principal Stephen Brandt took over as the school’s top administrator.

Stricter and swifter disciplinary measures were the first half of the equation. Mark Scott, who has taught English at Roxborough for nine years, said routine hall sweeps made a big difference. Nearly all of the violent incidents at the school happened outside of the classrooms before and after instruction.

“That was the very first step to our turnaround,” said Scott.

The second half was about heightening academic expectations through a shared interest in Roxborough being a true college preparatory school.

“From the beginning we’re looking at college,” said Christine Arnold, Roxborough’s Ninth grade coordinator.

It’s a vision that Brandt said was lacking before.

The school has dramatically increased the number of AP and honors courses it offers. Overall, teachers now focus more on pedagogy, or how they deliver information in class.

“If the kids are engaged academically there’s going to be very little time, very little need to get into something that might not be as productive or something that’s inappropriate,” said Brandt.

Most students appear to be enjoying school more as a result of the changes inside the building, adds Brandt. School attendance to date is 90-percent. It was 84-percent for all of last year.

Teachers like Scott say they’re enjoying their time more at Roxborough.

“The pride is no longer based on surviving the job, but on actually accomplishing good things and moving forward,” said Scott.

“Within just this year and a half, I feel like it’s the old Roxborough that I remember when I first stepped into this building,” said DiFrancesco.

Arnold said it’s wonderful to have a team of teachers and administrators that truly understand children.

Brandt’s broader goal is to have a school that the Roxborough community can be proud of.

“We’re building something special here and if we could start getting our community to truly buy into and support us and be active within the school I think the possibilities are truly endless,” he said.

The young principal said there’s still a lot of work to do. 

“We can’t take our foot off the gas pedal,” said Brandt.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal